Continuing the theme of teasing the reader, we’ll look at a couple more of those elements which are at a writer’s disposal. The last two common essentials to look at are foreshadowing and dialogue.
Foreshadowing is a really effective tool if used correctly. While it is very similar to the information and revelation hints that we’ve already touched upon, there are subtle differences between the two and they should be treated separately.
The act of foreshadowing is a deliberate path that the writer takes in order to fulfill an integral part of the plot. It foresees events that will happen, rather than what might happen, which s what information hints might do. Foreshadowing is usually interpreted as something foreboding yet to happen within the story.
Clever foreshadowing is achieved by using metaphor rather than the obvious info dump or by “this will happen in chapter 30” kind of thing.
Foreshowing can be represented by anything, as long as the metaphor works within the narrative and is generally understood by your reader. Metaphors can be spoilt by over complication, so simplicity works.
The example below uses a physical metaphor to foreshadow an incident that will take place later in a story.
John looked up and noticed the rolling clouds in the distance, heaving with a strange kind of dread. They billowed forward, as though to smother. Light flashed through its underbelly; a storm of a different kind was approaching, one that he couldn’t avoid or prevent.
You can see how the metaphor acts as a signpost to the future event:
Heaving with a strange kind of dread – this sets the tone of the future event.
They billowed forward, as though to smother – this could hint at the manner of likely events.
A storm of a different kind – this clearly tells the reader that things will not go well for John. Something bad will happen. The reader will have to continue reading to find out what that it is.
Dialogue, on the other hand, is also a perfect way to hint at things. Characters love to talk about stuff; they can’t help themselves, just as people do in real life. And just as people gossip in real life – a way of teasing information from each other – characters will offer clues on future events.
You can lure the reader by having your characters discuss things that might occur further into a story. The following simple example uses dialogue between two characters to plant information hints for the reader so that they will become aware of events that will occur further into the story.
“Are you clear on what you need to do?’ John asked.
Dan looked at him. “Yeah. How long again before the security goes down?’
“Eight minutes,’ John replied. “That’s all we got. So you need to make sure you’re in place when it does, got it? No one will hear anything above the New Year celebrations.”
“Not a problem.”
“Good, ‘cos we only got three months to plan this thing…”
It is clear from the dialogue between the characters that something is in the offing, and because they are discussing it, they are also allowing the reader to be privy to it. The reader is an observer in any story.
Dialogue isn’t just there to show characters speaking, either. It serves many purposes, such as moving the story forward or introducing vital information. And, of course, teasing the reader is just one of the ways dialogue is important.
However you do it, whatever method you choose, a writer should dangle as many carrot s as possible whenever the opportunity arises. The unforeseen within a story is a great lure to the reader.
Curiosity serves a great purpose; it is human nature to want to know about something. This need to know basis is what propels our interest in any story, and the writer’s ability to continually tease will, hopefully, keep your reader hooked.
Next week: Ways to avoid wooden characters